Darwin: Okay. Today it's my great pleasure to talk to somebody - I've actually known him for quite awhile. His name is Peter Kern and boy, if you are listening to this podcast and that name doesn't just jump off the page at you, well you have some catching up to do. Peter Kern runs the create digital music, world call it because it really, it really is an accumulation point for information that is really key to all of us staying connected to the music technology world that we're into in the art technology world that we're into. So I'm really excited to have a chance to talk to him and with no further ado, let's say hi to Peter. Hey Peter. How's it going?
Peter Kirn: Very good. Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
Darwin: Yeah, thanks so much for getting in touch and for staying in touch and for working with me on pulling this together. You have a really quite a busy schedule, although I guess with our current coronavirus things, things have changed a little bit for you, right?
Peter: Yeah. It's a busy schedule of sitting or an even more busy schedule of sitting, you know, which is its own kind of challenge. You see, we spend a lot of our time in front of screens as it is on our own. And then it's like, well, what if you could double that? And not talk to anybody but a screen. It's a strange experience for everybody, I know.
Darwin: Yeah. It sure is. Now, for people who may not know the breadth of what you do, you are certainly the head of the Create Digital Music - or the CDM - website, but you also have your hands in a bunch of other stuff too. So why don't you fill in the breadth of things that you're involved in?
Peter: Well, I mean, I got into writing as an extension of what I was doing as an artist and musician. So my entry into music technology was as a composer and most of the first gigs that I had were actually around music notation. And so what has evolved out of all of that is, you know, I'm interested in how we express ourselves through these machines. And that means also making, making music and sometimes media art. But I also feel like it's not just about what I'm doing as a solo artist, but about what connections I can make. And so I'm very lucky to have some opportunities to talk about culture or organize events, in various capacities. And, I guess I'm stumbling with that cause I'm still figuring out what that looks like. And now we're figuring out what that looks like without any events for awhile. But, you know, I think that we're all still communicating about how to make some of those connections.
Darwin: Things I would see is that from my perspective, you have always been involved in not so much community building as sort of community sustaining. Right? I always felt like you were - whether it's talking about some of the open source communities that you're involved in or algorithmic arts that you're into. Or even just supporting live performance maybe of modular people or whatever you did. You did more than just write about what they're doing or write about the technology they had in their pockets. You would be going to gigs, you would be going in interacting with festivals and stuff like that. And it seemed to me that a big part of your effort was more than promoting these kinds of ideas. It was very much helping to sustain those communities.
Peter: Oh well that's nice. That's nice that you say that. I mean I think we all benefit from sharing our resources a lot. And I mean, open source and free technology is very important. But it's not only about that, because I think that our industry - on the commercial or capitalist if you like side of things - it's also really important how we share with one another. And how that ecosystem operates, you know, because so much of what we do is so solitary and sometimes demanding. I think it's important to me that we come together and put our heads together and a lot of stuff. And, yeah, that's taken a lot of different forms from, sort of organizing events. And I mean, even a lot of the conversations that we have with each other are very important. I like getting my hands dirty - I like getting my hands dirty as an artist. I was never interested in just sort of sitting on the sidelines and writing about music without also doing it.
And, you know, I like playing and I'm not an engineer, but thanks to my partner in the Meeblip project, James, that means I get the experience of getting my hands dirty and making hardware.
Darwin: Yeah. I was gonna mention, back in podcast number 213 we actually talked to James Graham and about the Meeblip project. And, you know, it's interesting too to hear the sort of the collaborative thing that you guys put together to help help bring that about and help get it in sort of the public mind and also to open people to the idea of open source hardware, which I think frankly to me the Meeblip is one of the first things that I saw that was sort of wide spread commercial level, MI gear that was open hardware. And I thought it was a fabulous way to kick that conceptual idea off for the community.
Peter: Yeah. I think, I think we were really early with that as far as whether there the X0Xbox, but I think that was first available as a kit. Right? I think we were the first, I think we were the first open box, open source sort of consumer products that you could pick up and use and then Mutable Instruments, of course, really ran with this idea. And I think, I mean the funny thing about doing this sort of open source stuff is that it can live on even even when you move past it. So, some, some of our instruments now kind of... it's doesn't make sense to open source them. We're using some closed source stuff for the USB interface, for instance, because it's more reliable. But the open source iteration of the Meeblip is still living on and people are doing, some people are still picking up the stuff off GitHub and doing stuff with it, just as with, in a big way, with Mutable Instruments.
Darwin: Yeah. Now getting back to the CDM site itself, you actually come from a background of writing for paper magazines - that's how I first ran into you: you were a writer back when I was first getting into the MI industry. And...
Peter: That was really when you were at the beginning for you really?
Darwin: That really was, yeah. Cause I had a professional life before then that I will never talk about. But yeah, so when, when we were having discussions back in the day of early Max releases or the Lemur and stuff like that, some of those were the early days of me being involved in the MI industry. And so, in a way, I feel like you and I have been around for ages on this stuff, but you have really made this switch into online - and I would say have become almost the focal point for, along with a few other sites, for music technology up-to-date information.
And so unlike back in the days with magazines where the stride of knowledge came in monthly buckets, and we would all really look forward to the April issue of Keyboard magazine so we would find out what happened at the January NAMM show. Right now the stride of things is so much more rapid and so much more immediate that it's very dependent on sites like yours to be able to provide that. How has that been for you in terms of, first of all, the process of having to write that much information? I mean in comparison to an article or two a month, now you're doing one a day. Basically that has to be a little different, but also your ability to keep up with all of the things that have gotta be coming in the door.
Peter: Well, I should say I feel indebted to some of the print writing experience. It wasn't that I was trying to translate what the print publications look like to online. But I'm really grateful that I got recruited first by Chris Breen at Macworld and got to work with the team, wrote a bunch and then Ernie Rideout was the editor of Keyboard when I joined and it was nice to participate for a while in this thing that had been a continuum for so long. It had been something that I had sort of grown up reading. So I would say the evolution to the way that this works online for me is it's this daily (Monday through Friday anyway) practice of reflecting and trying to digest, you know, whatever is in my attention sphere. And I think it moves very quickly.
But at the same time, you know, there are longer threads. One of the things that I really appreciate about this sort of blog idea - it's been lost now in the age of Facebook for a lot of people - you don't have any obligation other than to reflect on what sort of interests you and how you think that will impact your readers, or what will interest them and not just what they find interesting but what's their mood. What, you know, will make us happy as sort of writers and readers. And that kind of reflection is not necessarily there in social media, which is why I still have some pretty big reservations about social media in its current state - and whether that's something we want to take with us that far into the future. Not to open that can of worms...
Darwin: That's a great point though, because in fact for a lot of people would say sort of the daily blog roll presentation, the days of that are over except... because there still are sites like yours that are a part of [my] daily have a cup of coffee and learn about what's going on today [routine]. It's that mix. You can bring that into play. And so that's really key.
Peter: Yeah. Well, and that's the whole idea. You know, I think that when the site has been better, it's been, usually if stuff that's making me happy and is making readers happy, that's usually [when] the site works better. If you get pulled away into other areas or feeling like you're obligated to do something or if you get sort of too lost, and I've certainly done this.
Sometimes I've gotten too lost in a particular train of thought and, you know, gone off the rail. I mean, this happens as a writer all the time, then it's been less effective. But I think this is really important for any medium. I mean, we want to tell a story, we want to get information across. Sometimes that means writing about stuff that makes us uncomfortable. So maybe happy is the wrong word, but there should be some kind of level of satisfaction that comes out of what we're doing, and I hope that that's also kind of not just what makes me excited, but also understanding what might appeal to readers. Because the thing that you didn't have in print is not only the speed, but the fact that people can reach out and talk to you - [that] is something that you're always missing as the print writer and you'll get some of it.
But CDM went the direction that it did, partly because of there was this sort of spontaneous community of people who showed up. Well, actually, you know what, it's like I played in Beijing and the guy who played after me was the person who started the Love Parade in Berlin. So Dr Motte started the Love Parade and he described what that was like, that it started with just a few people - sort of his first party - and then it just exploded where suddenly there were a bunch of people showing up. And, that's been at the beginning and sort of early part of the site. And then other important moments when you sort of get out there with some topic that really matters to people.
People show up and there's this kind of community that happens. And you know, we as writers, we're not always making that happen, but if we opened the door it's always interesting who shows up. Sure. And what they and what they bring.
Darwin: That makes a lot of sense. So one the things that's a through line for my podcast is talking to people about how they got to be the creator or the musician or whatever, how they got to be the artists that they are. And especially in your case, you're bringing together such a diversity of talents and experiences and ideas. I'm really curious to know a little bit more about where you're coming from. When did you first get into music? How did you grow as an artist, and who got you into electronic music particularly? And also, how you decided to, stretch your legs as a writer, as well as, you know, as a musician how all that, all that came together. So can you fill me in a little bit on what that background looks like?
Peter: Well, this is easy. So I always have a hard time talking about myself, but it's always easy for me to talk about what excites me musically and what those experiences have been. I mean, music for me is just there from the beginning - thanks to my parents - because there was a piano in the house, like has worked out for so many people. Thinking back on it, I was always excited by the sound of the piano as much as kinetically playing it right. Plus, not necessarily coming from a musical family, but my dad played in the Bellerman College, Division 3 NCAA basketball [school], Pep Band.
So maybe preparing me for the world of techno as a kid. Because as a kid you go and you and you sit in the middle of a pep band, you know... the amount of noise, the decibel level is just fantastic. And so you feel it, you know, it's not just loud, it's physical. I loved that as a kid, I thought that was great. I also realized that some of my less successful compositional exercises in concert music, I think I was often trying to make the music more mechanical. So it sort of makes sense to me in a way that I would wind up being drawn to machines. And I always liked the sort of things that you weren't supposed to be into as a concert musician: the regular rhythms and sort of flatness, and perpetual motion, sort of rhythmic gestures I always found really appealing. But you're not supposed to because that doesn't jive necessarily with the kind of 19th century tradition of, of concert music, which I also loved, but, maybe wasn't as good at playing or composing. But the electronic music connection, I mean I always had these computers around. I always wanted to figure out something to do with the computers. Certainly the breakthrough was I went to a summer program at TIMARA, which is - you probably remember what that stands for. Technology In Music And Related Arts, I think, Gary Lee Nelson's program at Oberlin College. And he had a two week summer program. And I would say that I learned more in those two weeks than probably anytime since, because in those two weeks they showed us the Yamaha DX FM synthesis.
And then they also showed that they had a rack of these things that they use for granular synthesis. They showed us M, the algorithmic composition software, and one this one woman who was on the faculty there whose name I'm forgetting (maybe one of your listeners will know and I will finally solve this mystery - that's something that's now a hole in my brain). She had been in grad school with Mark Coniglio when they were working with Morton Subotnick. Mark Caniglio is now known for making Isidora, but they had Mark's graduate project from Cal Arts for Mort, which was something called Interactor, which I absolutely fell in love with because it was something quite like Max, but it had this sort oftimeline that had these scenes. So you had set up events and in a way that it would interact with a series of scenes which made a lot more sense to people on theater and dance.
So I saw that, and then I saw Max all running on Macintosh 2-series computers. And I remember the other thing that I'm still excited about - and one of my weekend projects in quarantine is setting up a Mac emulator on Linux so I can try to run it. But, we looked at all these Voyagers CD ROMs and even by today's standards, these things are really beautiful immersive creations where... now that computers could deliver multimedia, you had people like Morton Subotnick and Laurie Anderson using the technology to deliver these incredible interactive multimedia abstract artworks. It's fantastic. This was mind-blowing. It was enough that I went and tried to learn to use Director, which went really badly. And it was my first experience in not being able to code. So I would say that was the seminal set of experiences.
And then I went to undergraduate to Sarah Lawrence College where, the electronic music studio there had a Buchla system and a Moog system and also computer program run by John Minnelli. And then I really got sucked into electronic music cause I would make these kinds of long experimental ambient scores for choreographers because I just loved modern dance. But you had to burn everything to a CD then cause you didn't have a computer that was capable of doing stuff in real time. So the choreographer would come to you and say, "Well, I need something. I think it needs to be somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes..." So you try to create - I mean it's good for this sort of quarantine time when we're apart from each other because then you would be in the basement trying to create stuff that felt like, it might be related to some of the gestures you'd seen in rehearsal, but it could also, if you had to turn, you know - and I was also running sound for all the dance shows so that that made this easier.
I would be ready to fade it out with a light cue that could happen somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes where the piece would still work and make sense after 15 minutes or if it were 30 or if the last part of the dance was [even] kind of in some very profound seeming silence because you ran out of music. But this was so hard. I think this is still probably really freeing. You know, it's really freeing to make these sort of musical worlds that you can step into and out of, and that don't have to conform to all the structural requirements of music and can function in all of these other contexts.
Darwin: Sure. So one of the things I'm always curious about with people, especially especially people you know who find themselves doing things that maybe have a more experimental bent at some point is to find out: what is the thing that you heard that first opened your ears to it? Was it something at TIMARA, or was it something that you heard before then?
Peter: This would require me to remember memories, in order, in a way that I may not be able to do. I mean, you know, there was a ton of stuff that we got exposed to in college. Lately I've been thinking a lot about Meredith Monk because I'm really coming back to this idea of how movement, choreography and music relate to one another. So I'm thinking a lot about Meredith's music. What were other things, I mean.. probably the first step was the usual suspects: Xenakis and things like this and music concrete and all of the usual things.
Darwin: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So one of the things that's interesting to me is you describing that in some of your attempts at composition, you found yourself drawn to things that were more focused on mechanical behaviors where maybe that kind of ran afoul of the romanticism of more typical compositional processes. Right?
Peter: Maybe it's this thing about how my brain works, actually, because I certainly wrote... I mean, I also did things weird things, like we wrote a musical together, my sister and I, while I was in college and I had sort of started on an operetta in grad school. But I think maybe it's back to being interested in sort of philosophically... time has all of these weird forms and shapes that it takes. And so, when you're working with music or even when you're working with writing or writing news or you're dealing with these sort of funny pockets of time. And I actually really liked some of those pockets of time that don't have a beginning, middle, and end. I don't think that's just because I have trouble focusing or something.
I think you have an immense sense of freedom sometimes when time doesn't have a beginning, middle and end. So while I really enjoy Beethoven and Wagner, I guess I'm more and more or less and less interested in structuring the world around me in that kind of timescale. Which conveniently enough, the rest of the universe doesn't seem to be structuring itself in that way either. So there's a nice synchronicity, right? Because what do we say about like, what's the next time in our lives? I mean, how long will it last? We don't really know. And most importantly, we don't really know what it will feel like. Right? I know what the span of time usually feels like from - right now (the 10th of April) to the end of August is that it starts to feel like fall is coming.
But this year I have no idea what that rhythm will feel like. You know? And we have to find it now to fill it. You know, we can't just lie back and let it happen to us because if we do that, it's going to be a recipe for some real chaos and unhappiness. But you have to... music is this kind of exercise and figuring out how to respond to different pockets of time.
Darwin: Right. So I'm a little curious about, about sort of how you do performances. I mean, it's going to be a little weird talking about this because you're probably not looking at doing any performances for any significant period of time, but you mentioned before about how one of the kind of freedoms of doing your site is that you get to focus on the things that make your viewers happy or engage, but also you get to explore your interests.
So I think anyone that reads CDM for a significant period of time is going to start to have a feeling of the things that are your interests and are sort of your passion points. Right? What I'm curious about is when you put together a system that you're going to perform with, whether it's to work with some dancers or whether it's to do a performance in Beijing or whether it's to go to a club and lay down some techno tracks, I'm curious, what is it that represents the system that you use as sort of your instrument?
Peter: Well, these days it's really about avoiding patterns and cues as much as possible. For better or for worse just because I really like to be able to play stuff in. So live the last few times has been doing tons and tons of stuff with VCV Rack, which is doubly funny because I've never really owned a modular system.
But this, even though this thing is made to look like a modular, I think it's probably closer to how I tend to work than a hardware system even would be. But with those things I really like, I mean I like to have something that you can play; lately I've employed plugging in a microphone and using that as an as in control input, because then it's so easy. You know, it's actually easier even than playing with your hands. You have this kind of latency problem to work with on Windows and Mac. But yeah, just to be able to make some kind of gesture with your voice or with your hands and have that result in sound that that part feels great. And then also I think the nice thing about these kind of modular rigs, whether it's something you've patched together in PD or Max or or in this thing that looks kind of like a Eurorack system and VCV, it's always fun to build these systems that are a bit unstable so that when you turn a knob it'll really shift a lot - but just not right away.
You want something where you just map, like, eight knobs, but just by mapping those eight knobs and then whatever, mixing some sources together that just some small shifts, we'll let the sound really transform itself because then you can take one patch and use it for forever basically, you know? And that you also kind of... if you want to be surprised in the performance but still without it wrecking the performance and it's great to be able to go into a set, say I don't really know what I'm going to play and I don't really know exactly what's going to come out if I turn this knob.
But I know that if I get in the zone, we're all gonna go there together. So I think that that's the kind of current approach. Cause there was so long that I think a lot of us, I mean you can do this with Ableton Live, so this is not a criticism of Ableton, but I know that there was a long period where all of us were trying to really program lots of elaborate patterns and cues and whether that's on an electronic drum machine or whether it's on, you know, Ableton Live or wherever you're really trying to compose out what you were playing and then navigate through that. And the problem is that you, if you do that, you really lose the sense of improvisation. It's like you're deejaying with your own composition but you know, if you're actually deejaying then you can go somewhere unexpected cause you just navigate to a different folder on the USB stick or whatever.
You can get on a different record and go some other direction. But you know, if you're just stuck in your own material - at least for me it gets little depressing cause you stuck in your own thoughts and you cannot improvise, which is not why I got into music.
Darwin: It's interesting for me, though, to hear that you never have been a modular owner, a modular guy instead kind of hitting at it through virtual means because one of the things that your site has done a lot is be very supportive of both the modular synth culture. But especially, I would say, even more than the culture of buying modules is that you have been super-supportive about people who do live modular sets, and there has been no end of times that I've been turned on to new artists because you had a video of them doing a gig or something like that featured on your site. So it surprises me that you were never drawn into the hardware modular stuff because it seems like that's a real integral part of what you present on the site.
Peter: Oh well, I mean, I might've had more budget for that had I had done something other than choose running CDM as a career! But, you know, there's a lot of different interfaces for playing. And part of what struck me about the modular community was that there really were many of them getting so deep into improvisation. So I think there was a big bias for a long time. Well, the big bias against computer musicians was familiar, you know, that the computer musicians weren't really playing and that it wasn't really a musical instrument. And then we overcame that. And there were also a lot of biases against modular people too, though, which was this kind of idea that it was just chin-scratching music and just horrible noise that I think that those biases were generated by people who either legitimately wanted to go there and just do something weird and experimental or other people who maybe didn't really have a mastery of the control of the instruments.
So yeah, I mean it was easy to advocate. It's easy to advocate on behalf of other people cause it's been clear to me that there are people going into nightclubs and really moving a dance floor between two DJ's just playing digital sets on CDJs - and that says a lot. Right? To not clear the dance floor. To go out there with the equipment that is heavy and temperamental and complex as a modular rig and you know, the DJ before and after you is playing finished tracks where they could even look at the whatever Beatport rankings and know what people liked and it's mastered, so basically just got to mix them together. You could even let the machine do that for you if you want, but you know, if not, you had to come out there... And to really improvise and not clear the floor is, it's cool that works. I mean, I like DJs too, but it's really cool that you can add some of that variety to a nightclub, you know?
Darwin: Well, the other thing is [the] live performance thing that you have championed over the years - it is live and improvisational visuals that go along with the music. You know, even just, a day or two ago there was something on your site that caused me to run over to Gumroad and give somebody three bucks for their little visualizer. But it's also something that seems to be part of your attention-scape. What is it about that kind of thing that speaks to you?
Peter: Well, that's related to cause I think it's this question of how do we use all this technology and play it as an instrument? So one answer to that is to treat it not only as a sonic instrument but as a visual instrument. Well, and it's a lot of fun! It's also a lot of fun to do because we all, I mean, at least for me, I think lots of people see something visual when they're thinking about music or listening to music.
One of the cool things about that is it never seems to be the same for different people. A lot of us associate pitch and tamper with colors and it doesn't ever seem to be the same colors, which to me is exciting. So it seems only natural that we would use lighting and video and 3D and all of these other technologies to try to help other people to enter the trips that are happening inside our brains. And it does seem to me like now is a time that that may start to pick up again, partly because we have a few months of.. everybody is now seeing what a lot of us had reflected on before, which is that watching a person stand behind decks is not all that interesting.
I mean, even watching a person with really great stage presence (because they're kind of dancing behind decks) is still not all that interesting. You know, it's not the point of that. It's not the point of that, right? In fact, if you are at a club with enough time to really closely watch what the DJ is doing for their whole set, I wonder like, "What the heck are you doing? If you're able, why aren't you on the dance floor or even off in the corner, lost in your own thoughts, whatever..." So I do think that people will feel compelled as Dixon did this week and and also as our friends in Prague did this in a more underground way to try to feed these video streams with something other than just a webcam picture of themselves.
Plus a lot of us don't like to be on camera, so that helps motivate us. DJs are shy people. So I think DJs will naturally and have the healthy inclination to say, "Oh, well maybe I don't actually want somebody staring at me for an hour." Wouldn't it be great if we could put up some other kind of visual for people to look at.
Darwin: I mean certainly, with a lot of people now having to do virtualized gigs, I mean in as much as it can be a man going to a club and watching a person look at their laptop or stare at their modular, it's even worse looking at something that's maybe a two inch by four inch window on your laptop and watching them through that thing while ads flash on the right hand side or whatever.
Peter: So definitely I can see where, where these visuals actually play a stronger role now with some of the things that we're finding ourselves having to do. Or you know, I mean at the very least we all have time. I mean I enjoy the streams cause it's nice to see my friends again, to see a lot of the DJs playing. Clearly the Facebook Live interface, the YouTube interface are just terrible. And it makes me know this is not technology worthy of the world's richest companies. I mean it just isn't neutral. I happy to say that without apologies. I do like watching Boiler Room sometimes and I like watching the streams. However, a lot of us don't want to be on camera and I think we also have a lot of time to sit back and learn some of the skills to do visuals again.
So, you know, I think it's really hard to make music right now and it's a weird thing is it's like too much time in the studio, which usually is a recipe for creative block, which is what I'm hearing from lots of people. So a good kind of solution to that right now is, "Oh, maybe now is the time to really sit down and learn GLSL...", or really dig into a couple of visual toys that we've been looking at. And it's like stopping everything else in painting or something, you know, it's a chance for us to get away from these other things when our brain stops working and we began to get to that headspace where say: "Wow, I have no musical ideas at all."
"I hate music. I can't listen to music, especially mostly especially mine. I don't want to hear it anymore." This is a perfect time to switch over to visuals and, and look at some glitches for a while or something.
Darwin: Right. So that does make me then, go back to sort of the stuff that you talk about on CDM and, again, getting back to this sort of daily stride of production: given that you post basically an article a day, on one hand that could seem pretty overwhelming because it's like, "Holy crap, I have to do an article a day." On the other hand, once you get to a certain level of popularity, like I would consider CDM to be, you probably have, every day, 20 people saying, "Hey, why don't you cover my stuff? Hey, I have new magical player piano software. Don't you want to talk about that?" How do you make the decisions that you make about what it is that you're going to cover? Is it really just your own passion and what other people are or, or is there something else? I mean, do you ever have to consider that this is for the history of what we're doing or something that's going to stimulate people or whatever?
Peter: I mean, I wish there were more of me sometimes. The good thing about there only being one of me is that... I was going to say it's good to sometimes ignore important stories, but that's not true. I mean there're certainly people who bugged me, really wanted me to write about something where I really regret that I screwed it up and didn't like it.
So that happens. At least there is, I mean, what I try to do is keep my time manageable so that I can spend some quality time on stuff. And also I'm mindful that that keeps it at, I mean it's still a lot of information, but that's a stream that's probably manageable for other people, too. So at least if they come to CDM, you know that you're going to have a manageable stream of information, articles that are way too long and frequently esoteric, but that at least you know that there's a rhythm to it that you don't have to feel like it's just a fire hose of a bunch of information each day. And, you know, I think that for our community, there are other sites that do try to pick up all the news and in particular veins, this is why I go check out stuff on Synthtopia, because they pick up stuff when I miss it.
I think the cadence that I have, I really owe a lot to Tom Whitwell when he was doing Music Thing. Cause I think we were both in the same sort of rhythm - writing very different articles. But we had maybe the same feeling for a while about what was the most compelling story if you had to pick one per day. But what I would contrast this to again, and if it sounds like I just want to harp on social media, that's true. You know, that's an information feed that doesn't have that kind of editorial control. And it's not that those of us who are editors are making perfect decisions - there's tons of stories that we should write about that we miss. This is certainly true in music journalism too.
There's a ton of great music that doesn't get written about on music sites. And it's just because it's important for those writers to manage their time and make a decision, not because it's the right decision, but just so that they are applying the amount of focus that their brain can actually handle to the topic. And the readers also are going to get a feed that they can actually digest. And this is why it's important to have media outlets. And it's also why it's important to have more diversity of media outlets than we have right now. Because this algorithmic fire hose of information is not a great way to process anything. I love algorithms as you know, algorithms are great and computers are fantastic. I love AI. Machine learning is really exciting. But the kind of way that that's applied on these sort of large, consolidated corporate sites I think is not at a sustainable human scale.
Darwin: Right. But, the other thing is, sometimes having this very personal view of things can put you in the crosshairs. Recently, you got in a bit of a kerfluffle with Beringer about, for some reason they decided to take some pot shots at you. I thought you handled it pretty slickly, but I'm just wondering what you think about it now after a bit of retrospection.
Peter: I'm glad that it's over, actually. So that level of personal... I don't want to be the news actually. So the thing that was weird about that was that I felt a little bit like I was becoming the news, and that wasn't... I mean I was also a little concerned because it seemed that the level of interest from the side of this company in me was more than I would expect. And that caused some confusion because people who hadn't followed the stories, even people I know, people were like, "Wait, did you do something? And specifically what happened that we missed?" But you know, I mean I think, there is nothing that happened behind the scenes.
Everything happened in the open. So you know, what you see is what you get there. There are certainly articles that I've written over the years. I think it's understandable that Beringer may not have been happy with some of them. That's not the only time that I've made people unhappy. It certainly happens. Another developer - who will go unnamed - I know there was something that I'd written for Keyboard Magazine that happened to come out at the time of NAMM. Let's say copies of the article were printed out during the fact check and just circulating the booth and everybody was taking red markers and marking it up. I think in the end we actually defended a lot of the things that went into that review. But you know, I had a point of view and that developer had a point of view and there was some discussion.
The weird thing about Beringer is that there is not a lot of bi-directional communication between that company and the press. Which also means that what you see on the internet is everything. So, you know, people are welcome to have whatever opinion they want of that. I think it's really important for people to have... I always assumed that this is a world where we have sort of strong opinions and we talk about them. So, you know, this particular manufacturer has a different perspective and it's been clear from the kind of legal actions that they've taken and clear from this sort this kind of series of actions, that they're willing to intervene to stop communication that they don't like.
Darwin: Well, we can be done talking about that now. There's better stuff to talk about, right?
Peter: Well, that's the thing. I mean, in some ways I think that company has gotten more attention than I - they've taken attention away from other manufacturers also make affordable equipment. One of the things that I thought was weird about this was any idea that that I was some kind of... Oh, actually, I would love to be an elitist. I would love to be the character that apparently that parody thought that I was. I would love to hit be blowing huge amounts of cash on vintage gear and obsessing about... But that's definitely not me. I mean, I love cheap stuff and we have lots of conversations. Musicians, you know, part of the reason why DIY is so big and part of the reason why it's important not to be a snob about synths or analog or anything like that is, you know, there are tons of people making amazing music on the cheapest gear possible.
This is why we talk about grabbing what's now a $5 arm processor that you program yourself and you can make a computer capable of pretty sophisticated computer music for under about 20 bucks now. And I've always been kind of fascinated by low-fi stuff and cheap stuff and there's that spectrum that is so large and so global and there's so much DIY and punk stuff that happens where people individually kind of make their own stuff, right? Rather we focus on that rather then only on big brands.
Darwin: Right. Well that is certainly something that you do. Although what's interesting is that, again, you don't focus simply on just the low-fi cheap stuff, because you're more than happy to talk about what VR futures might look like and what you can do if you spend a lot of time learning to code, right? Because there's a lot of different means at getting at this stuff. One way is to say, I'm going to expend time learning to code so I can develop my own thing. Another one is I could learn how to interact with building my own hardware so that I can go some somewhere there. Another one is to say I'm going to be exploring brand new technologies and finding a way to make them musical, whether it's VR or whether it's machine learning or some of these other things that you've also shown a lot of interest in. You know, it seems to me like you are actually excited by all these avenues simultaneously.
Peter: Oh yeah. Well, part of my personality is that I'm easily excited, but this is what's great. I mean this is what's great about music though, too, is that maybe that's back to this kind of relativistic bubbles of time, right? You know, you spend tons and tons of time. I mean, all of these sort of realities exist simultaneously. So a big thanks to CTM festival. I was able to squeeze my way and sneak my way into a group of what was the Southeast Asian performance night at Berghein, for the CTM festival. Not this year, but the year before. Because of the partnerships that we had was with the Indonesian partners. So it was all people from Southeast Asia and me as their partner.
But you know, people brought in... Well, I remember that the thing that I built, I'd just slaved over in Supercollider, there were a bunch of people building really elaborate circuit-bending stuff and noise stuff. So, you know, there's all of this ton of time that goes into the technology. But then that night was sort of the "noise" night. So then you get there and you're in this crazy kinky nightclub in a festival and you're screaming into microphones and we had a sort of shadow puppet construction that Linton had built, which had a red flashing eye. So I mean, this is the nature of music. We do all this work and then, yeah, at the end it's just like it's a party and you were sweating and screaming and we lose ourselves in this thing.
So it's cool that music technology has that full spectrum. You know, you could spend the next six months just only learning DSP code, but you could also just like right now get fed up with it and pick up a $10 used distortion pedal and wind up making a whole piece with that. So yeah, I mean all this stuff has kind of, it's exciting how weird weirdly incongruous that is. I mean, I'm also excited by this. I am excited by some of these really expensive synthesizers and remakes. It does not necessarily mean that I'm going to buy them, but you learn something from them. And because of the sort of joy of music, that thing that you learned might be just as applicable to your $20 punk rig. It's weird.
Darwin: So unfortunately our time is long up. Good gravy - I was supposed to be paying better attention to the time than I have. But too bad. We will have to go a little long, but before I let you go, you are probably one of the most plugged-in people that I know in terms of knowing what's going on out there. So I'm going to ask you to futurecast just a little bit for us. What do you think are the next things around the corner?
Peter: Well, you know, this stuff goes in cycles. It just seems like it's time to cycle back to some visual things, partly because it's uncertain what we're going to do in space. So we, all of us were forced to think about this. So I think that we're going to think a lot about how communities are constructed, how we communicate and where we come together.
And I think that we're aware now that we may not always be able to rely on being physically present much as we want to. I mean we're going to value that more than ever, right? Maybe we'll value it in a different way, you know? I think maybe we'll all come to some awareness that, well, I don't know. I'm not going to say that about everybody. The kind of people that I get along with I'm sure are going to come out of the current moment with the sense that it is actually really important when we spend time together in person and that maybe that kind of closeness is the most important thing. Whatever the kind of commercial value of it or the scale of it may be that that time that we come to together is really sacred and not infinite.
I know that what I'm thinking about a lot is that the kind of current state of online technology is really poor. It's really not very good and it's easy for all of us to be aware of that now because none of us can travel. But there are a lot of reasons why you could wind up relying on virtual presence. There are so many kinds of physical things that can happen. Economic and political, things that can happen, ecological things that can happen to you that may stop you from being able to just go wherever you want in the way that a lot of us have become accustomed. And so now that we're trapped on the internet for the next however many months, I hope that a lot of people look around and say, "Well, what could we do to make this better?"
It's not a replacement for being in the same room. You know, I'm missing my family right now. And more than ever. But maybe we should also try to make the internet as a distinct place, a better place to be. And music people ought to be some of the best people to address that - music and visual people. It's no accident that you could look at all these streams and say there's too many streams, but you could also look at them and say, you know, one of the things that happens naturally when people have any kind of medium or gathering place is that people find ways to put music and visual culture into that space. So I hope that we use some of this extra time, when maybe we're needing something to focus on, to think about how to make that space work better. Because having watched it over the decades, it has not been a straight line from Point A to Point B - and Point B is better. Like all of our technology kind of loops in on itself. So it really will require some effort to look back over the history of this thing and figure out what the best stuff to take with us forward might be - and what some of the stuff that, at least we personally, might want to discard.
Darwin: Well, Peter, I want to thank you so much for those inspiring words and for taking time out of your schedule to have this talk. It's really great to hear about it, to hear more about your background, but also to hear how everything you do is sort of driven off of a passion that's super inspiring for anyone to hear. So I want to thank you so much for sharing that.
Peter: Well thanks so much and I appreciate all of those qualities in you and what you and your crew are doing, as well.
Darwin: Thank you so much. Well with that, I'm going to let you have the rest of your day. Thank you so much and we'll catch you next time around.
Peter: Yeah, good night everybody from Kreuzberg!
Copyright 2020 by Darwin Grosse. All right reserved.